The Craft of Art

If in political and social terms the diminishing role of the aristocracy in Europe was, in the historian's view, inevitable, in cultural terms its dissipation was not really felt until the turn of the century. Indeed, the intellectual history of our time is a record of careless exploitation and ruthless expropriation of what had once been an aristocratic preserve, with the consequence that it has become increasingly difficult to draw the property line between the high and the low. The book I have before me is a fascinating ease study of the universal cultural enfranchisement witnessed by our century, a glimpse of the social processes by which high culture was cut off from its aristocratic past and made to fill the growing demands of common consumption. It is a life of Salvador Dali, by Meryle Secrest.

While still a child in the home of his kind, middle-class parents in a provincial Spanish town, Salvador Dali grasped the fact that bad behavior, when it is presented as eccentricity and even remotely connected with art, is not only tolerated but richly rewarded. Between temper tantrums, the young artist sported "an ermine cape . . . and a matching gold crown studded with topazes." "Before long," observes Miss Secrest, "it became a kind of deadly game, which he played with increasing skill."

The world at large was no less receptive, and by the time Dali had emerged from his indulgent family's...

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